Much of the commentary on President Obama’s Afghanistan strategy has focused on one particular aspect, his decision to set an end-date for the troop surge after which we will begin withdrawing the additional troops. It should be pointed out that the phrase "begin withdrawing" is elastic, and the President is certainly capable, 18 months hence, of saying that his commanders want a bit more time, or that the withdrawal will be glacially slow, or that the Afghan government and security forces have done better than expected and the withdrawals can not only begin on time but begin expeditiously.
The disagreement over the deadline is an honest disagreement and people should regard those who hold the contrary view with appropriate respect. On the one side, some argue that deadline gives the Taliban an incentive to wait us out, to hunker down and do little until the U.S. forces start to withdraw. Those who applaud the President’s decision say that an open-ended troop commitment gives the Afghan government no incentive to get its act together – why should they worry about their security situation if U.S. troops are willing to carry the burden?
Where you stand on this issue probably says as much about you as it does about the Afghans. The difference of opinion is, at heart, an estimation of what motivates others, what is human nature. It is curious that there is no necessary correlation between those who think the Afghans should be held accountable and those who think Wall Street bankers should be held accountable.
There is currently a disagreement that is not honest. When Republicans object to both the cost of the health care reform and to the fact that some of the savings the reform hopes to achieve come from Medicare, they are being dishonest. When they passed Medicare Part D, the prescription drug plan, there was no additional revenue legislated to pay for it. And, Republicans cannot at the same time argue against government involvement in health acre and then warn that the most conspicuous government-run health care program, Medicare, cannot be touched. As well, they know that the savings will derive not from the "rationing" of care but from slowing the growth of Medicare by achieving lower costs throughout the health care system.
There are a zillion reasons why some people favor one legislative approach, or one strategic approach, over another. Democracy is built from honest disagreement. But, when debates get dishonest, it is worth pointing out.
Michael Sean Winters